When Sparta (above) was hastily convened in 2001 before the corpse of its predecessor, Texas's would-be punk messiah At the Drive-In, had even been hauled down off the cross, the whole thing smelled a little suspicious. But any charges of necrophilia or opportunism have been conclusively laid to rest with the release of Porcelain, Sparta's sophomore full-length. Where 2002's Wiretap Scars was a rushed, haphazard splat of underdone angst, Porcelain channels the group's sincerity and solid framework of post-hardcore stamina into a powerful and integrated whole, while also managing to creep out a bit from under At the Drive-In's formidable shadow. Rather than a mere rehash or cash-in, the disc showcases Sparta at both its bravest and its most vulnerable; singer/guitarist Jim Ward has shed some reluctance and stepped up to the mike, at last sounding confident in his newfound role as frontman, while the whiplash guitar interplay between him and Paul Hinojos has evolved into a true and unique symbiosis. Throw in some piano, a string section and even a love song or two in the middle of Ward's minefield of social and political outrage, and you've got the recipe for a band that's finally coming to terms with its past, embracing a more direct, grounded and eloquently spoken grandeur.
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